20 speeches by……and 1 more speakers
The next item is the business statement and announcement, and I call on the leader of the house, Jane Hutt.
Diolch, Llywydd. Business Committee has agreed to table a motion to suspend Standing Orders immediately after the business statement to allow tomorrow’s short debate to take place today after voting. Business for the next three weeks is as shown in the business statement and announcement found among the meeting papers available to Members electronically.
Cabinet Secretary, I recently visited my general practitioner. I had to go very early in the morning—an 8 o’clock appointment—and what I saw was unthinkable. I had to pass through a couple of surgeries, and people were waiting from 7.30 a.m. until 8 o’clock, outside in this weather, only a couple of days ago, with children—able, disabled and senior people with, of course, sickness. You have to make an appointment to see the doctor before 8 o’clock, and the surgery door never opens. That is a surprise in the twenty-first century—people waiting outside and not getting in in this weather early in the morning while the surgery staff are already inside. So, would you kindly make a statement on GP appointments in Wales? It will definitely help many surgeries in this country and all of those stood outside without shelter at the mercy of this weather. Could not some method be devised to allow these patients to wait inside the surgeries, with the possible use of ticketing or some sort of number to be given, and they can have allotted numbers to see the nurses, or the people who are inside can give appointments for the doctors? I think it would be a great help for our sick people, young and old, to make sure that a statement is made on doctor appointments at surgeries in Wales. Thank you.
The Member raises an important question. It gives me the opportunity to say that our GPs in Wales provide a first-class service to the Welsh population. In fact, the national survey continues to show very high levels of satisfaction—over 90 per cent of patients are satisfied with GP services. To help ensure patients receive high-quality care, we’re continuing to invest new money in primary care—£42.6 million this financial year alone. Also, importantly, in terms of GP practices working together collaboratively, we’re investing in 64 primary care clusters across Wales. Of course, that all means that, in terms of access to GP services, this Welsh Government is not only investing and supporting but patients are also increasingly satisfied with those services.
Can I ask for a Government statement on the importance of universities as economic drivers, and what the Welsh Government is doing to support the university sector and to generate science parks similar to both Cambridge and Aarhus in Denmark, which have been very important in the economic success of those two areas?
Mike Hedges, the importance, as you say, of universities as economic drivers is quite clear. The higher education sector makes a substantial contribution to the economy of Wales. Universities in Wales contribute more than £3 billion a year in gross expenditure to the Welsh economy, employ over 20,000 people, have an annual turnover in excess of £1.5 billion and, of course, contribute to sustainable economic growth in many ways—through knowledge creation developing a highly skilled workforce and through engagement with local communities. Clearly, there are important examples that the university sector can learn from across the world, but I think we have real opportunities, as the Diamond review recognises, that investment in higher education can bring those benefits for the economy.
Could I ask the Cabinet Secretary for two statements from the Government? The first is quite simple—we’ve just announced, of course, that all parties in Wales are in favour of scrapping the Severn bridge tolls. I welcome that and look forward to it, but it does leave one bridge—just one bridge—in Wales that does have tolls, and that’s the Cleddau bridge. The Cleddau bridge is wholly in the hands of the Welsh Government: that is Pembrokeshire owns it at the moment, but it’s the Welsh Government’s intention to trunk the road over the Cleddau bridge—that’s been stated by the former Minister, Edwina Hart, and restated in principle by Ken Skates, too. Therefore, what are the Government’s intentions in terms of the Severn bridge—to scrap the tolls on that bridge, the only tollbridge in Wales where a bridge goes from one part of an enterprise zone to another? So, let’s ensure that Wales is free of tolls—realising the dreams of the daughters of Rebecca at last. The second statement I’d like from Government is a little more complex. It relates to a planning application for a cabin holiday park in Beddgelert. Now, I don’t expect the Government to make a statement on the particular planning application, but the campsite in Beddgelert is to be done away with, and there’s a planning application for holiday cabins in its place, which includes hot tubs and all sorts of other things, as well as a shop and a centre and such things. The plan underpinning this is part of something that’s emerged from the old Forestry Commission and, therefore, I want a statement from the Government on the role of Natural Resources Wales in this application. As I understand it, NRW, as the successor body to the Forestry Commission, has a 20 per cent stake in this scheme, and if it does proceed and is successful in terms of its planning application, then NRW will receive £48,000 per annum in rent for 16 holiday cabins, which is £3,000 per cabin. Of course, the problem here is that NRW is also a regulator for the site, and NRW as a regulator hasn’t raised any objections on the development. Therefore, you have a governmental body that is regulating and is also responsible as an investor. I’d like to hear from the Welsh Government how exactly they expect NRW to balance that position and to ensure that everything is done properly to ensure that local people can be assured that they’re doing their proper work in safeguarding the local environment.
Diolch, Simon Thomas. Indeed, it is a breakthrough that the Welsh Labour Government and, indeed, yourselves have been calling for the Severn tolls to be removed and now we have the Tories actually responding to our calls here from the Welsh Government and from parties in this Chamber. It is very important, therefore, we look at how this can progress, but your point about Cleddau bridge is well made and I’m sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Infrastructure will want to update you on that. I think your second question does draw attention to a whole range of issues, which touch on the role, powers and responsibilities of NRW, but I think you have put it on the record now in terms of this application, which does cross over issues relating to tourism, forestry and planning, which, of course, Welsh Ministers have to reserve comment on. But you’ve put it on record.
Could I call for two statements: firstly, on an issue I and others first raised with you 14 years ago, and possibly earlier in the First Assembly when I wasn’t here, and that’s deaf school pupils in Wales? In this UK Deaf Awareness Week 2017, the latest Welsh Government-published figures have shown that deaf school pupils in Wales are underachieving at every key stage with the National Deaf Children’s Society Cymru saying that these pupils face being left behind without urgent action, and the figures suggesting that the attainment gap having temporarily fallen has widened again at GCSE level. Having launched the ‘Close the Gap’ petition following a poor set of results four years ago, the National Deaf Children’s Society has said the latest figures are unacceptable. Well, deafness is neither a learning disability nor a learning difficulty and there’s no reason why these pupils should be underachieving unless and only because they’re not accessing the appropriate support. As we called for 14 years ago, that means raising deaf awareness, improving acoustics in the classroom and ensuring that deaf children and their families are supported from the start. I hope the Welsh Government will respond with a statement on this very serious issue, having given it deep and serious consideration, and consider how we might now move forward. Secondly, and finally, could I call for a statement from the health secretary on rare conditions in Wales, once he’s read the spring 2017 edition of Vasculitis UK’s magazine, and an article within it entitled, ‘What’s up with Wales?’? This article, entitled ‘What’s up with Wales?’ says: ‘We, at Vasculitis UK, have a really good relationship with all the leading medical vasculitis professionals in England…. However, in Wales, it is a different situation.’ Having been given a diagnosis and a treatment plan by a leading world expert in England, ‘The advice of the experts “over the border” seems to be resented and ignored’ when we come back to Wales. ‘There are various natural problems in Wales for people with rare diseases…. There seems to be a last century attitude in Wales’ and ‘There seems also to be a general culture of hierarchy and closed ranks.’ Now, even if that’s not 100 per cent accurate, the fact that these people hold those views, based on their experience of treatment in Wales, and put that into a UK magazine, must merit attention, and I hope that will justify a statement accordingly.
I’m grateful that Mark Isherwood has kept faith, as he has, with these very important issues, which he raised with me, I’m sure, not just 14 years ago. It’s an issue not just for health Ministers and their responsibilities, but also for education Ministers and their responsibilities as well. Our national mission is to raise standards and to continue to improve the attainment of all learners, and of course deaf children’s attainment levels are crucial. We do aim to achieve this through the range of educational reforms that are currently under way. Our ambitious additional learning needs Bill, if passed, will completely overhaul the system for supporting pupils with additional learning needs, including learners with hearing impairments. And a £20 million package of funding will support the implementation of the Bill and our wider plans, including developing the workforce. But I do recall again—and I’m sure that the Cabinet Secretary for Education will be able to update us on this—the ways in which we ensured that, in our capital investment programme, twenty-first century schools, we were particularly looking at these issues when we were developing that ambitious programme, to ensure that we could take this on board in terms of the ways in which those buildings could assist. And that’s very much part of raising deaf awareness for policy makers, as well as for those who are delivering the services. On your second point in terms of rare conditions, well, certainly, I have, over the years, met with groups, as you will have done here, and indeed professionals who are delivering in terms of addressing the needs of people with rare conditions. And I don’t recognise that statement that was made, but I know that the Cabinet Secretary will be taking very serious consideration of how we are progressing in terms of meeting those needs.
Some six weeks ago, Julie Morgan and I wrote to the Cabinet Secretary for the environment and planning about the threat to the most vibrant live music venue in Cardiff, which is at Womanby Street, because of the threat of planning applications for a hotel and some residential units as well. I’m delighted to see that the Cabinet Secretary for the environment and planning is now back with us after the really life-changing injury she suffered as a result of an accident. But, now that she’s back, I wondered if the Government could provide us with a statement as to whether it’s able to introduce new planning guidelines to ensure that it is absolutely clear to any developers that the agent of change in any development has to be met by the person who’s making the application, because under the current planning laws, the whole of Womanby Street could be put out of business if these applicants are successful, and they could then insist that the live music venue has to pay for soundproofing et cetera, which, in any case, is unlikely to be effective because people on the street will cause noise whether they’re inside or outside a venue. Nearly 1,000 jobs are at risk here, as well as many millions of pounds from music tourism. So, I wondered if we could envisage an early statement on how we can change the law to ensure that any new development has to make it clear that they’re going to have to pay for the costs of any mitigation that results from a new development.
I thank Jenny Rathbone for raising this very important issue again—this important campaign that Julie Morgan also raised with you. Lesley Griffiths is back in business, certainly wanting to meet with you to discuss this issue. She is certainly very concerned to make sure that the principle of making agents of change responsible for managing the impacts of new developments is made very explicit in any future revision to ‘Planning Policy Wales’. It’s already there, it’s already contained within ‘Planning Policy Wales’, but it clearly needs to be more explicit. And I think that the Cabinet Secretary for Environment and Rural Affairs is ready to meet with you to discuss how that can be taken forward.
I was very pleased, a few days ago, to see the Welsh Government noting Llangefni station as one that could be reopened in future. This emerges directly from the work that my predecessor, Ieuan Wyn Jones, did as Minister for transport, in commissioning a feasibility study on the potential of reopening the line from Gaerwen, through Llangefni, to Amlwch—something that I know would bring huge economic benefits to Anglesey. I know that Ieuan and I would be more than happy to discuss this issue further with Government. But would it be possible to have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for transport on the additional work that needs to be done now in order to transform this exciting idea into a reality?
Well, the Cabinet Secretary, as you have acknowledged, recently announced the prioritisation of 12 new railway stations across Wales. That decision was made, assessing a number of proposals against the well-being goals, set out in the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. And, clearly, now, it is about working with local authorities, partners, and all those who can progress proposals for those stations, including the station in your constituency, with a view to future consideration. So, I know the Cabinet Secretary will want to update the Assembly on this matter.
Can I call for two statements, please, one in relation to the regulation of drones and light aircraft? I’ve received a number of complaints recently from residents in my own constituency about the use of drones in residential areas, hovering over people’s back gardens, filming local residents, and invading their privacy. And, indeed, in addition to that, there have been some complaints about the use of light aircraft on beaches that are right adjacent to the rail infrastructure, and indeed the trunk road network. And, of course, if any of those microlights, et cetera, had an accident, then that could cause a serious problem on those particular pieces of infrastructure. So, I would appreciate a statement from an appropriate Cabinet Secretary about the way that we can best regulate these, while still allowing people to use them for leisure purposes. Can I also call for a statement on access to GPs? I know that my colleague Mohammad Asghar has also raised this as an issue, but the National Pensioners Convention Wales produced a report recently on access to GP services in Wales, and it found that there were significant problems with accessing some appointments in some surgeries. And that was largely due to the inconsistency around appointment arrangements. It reported that, while some surgeries were offering same-day appointments only, others were allowing people to book in advance, and offering a more flexible approach, which seemed to be much better for patients, in terms of their patient experiences. So, I do think it’s about time that we had a statement on GP access, and how to improve that overall, and I would appreciate it if one could be scheduled.
I think, on the importance of access to GPs, I’ve already commented on that in response to an earlier question. But I think the changes to the GP contract for 2017-18 are important, in terms of the ways in which it can provide for new, enhanced services, and also to take forward the quality and outcomes framework, which is where we need to see the consistency in terms of delivery. And, you know, that’s going to free up more capacity for GPs, and also access to practice nurses, which we must of course remember is equally important in terms of the primary care team and the services provided. And also it means patients can be seen by the most appropriate professional for their needs. So, these are issues that, of course, in terms of GP services, we are addressing. Your first question, I will obviously take back and identify which Cabinet Secretary is appropriate to answer your important question—indeed, if we have powers at all in terms of the use of drones and the impact in terms of the invasion, if you like, of private space, and the use of them as well.
Could we find time for a statement on the detrimental impact on Welsh Government policies of well-being and promoting prosperity, of cuts—existing cuts and possible future cuts—to disability benefits in the south Wales Valleys and throughout Wales? A £30-a-week cut to some new claimants of the employment and support allowance came into effect last month, so disabled people put in a work-related activity group will now receive £73 a week. I’ll just repeat that: £73 a week. I wouldn’t be able to live on that, and also to cope with the additional challenges and costs that people with disabilities have. The Prime Minister, Theresa May, says this lower rate of support will, in her words, ‘encourage disabled people to find work.’ Yet, over 30 authoritative disability charities have said the cuts do not incentivise work at all, but they do make life harder for disabled people who face extra costs of living, and they mean some people will be unable to afford basic necessities. Last week, the Prime Minister refused to rule out further cuts to allowances for people with disabilities, so if things are bad now, we can only imagine how things might be if a Conservative Government is elected for the next five years. So, can we have a statement to shine a light on the effects of these punitive attacks on people with disabilities, and the consequences for the people we represent and the communities they live in?
I’m very grateful that Huw Irranca-Davies has brought this to our attention in the Chamber today, and I have to say that, certainly in my constituency capacity, I’m being approached by people who are now suffering directly as a result of the further cuts to welfare benefits, particularly affecting disabled people from 1 April—people who are struggling and who are losing access to Motability, for example, and then having contradictory expectations that, of course, cannot be delivered, and all reducing their income levels. We remain deeply concerned about the UK Government’s changes for employment and support allowance claimants assigned to the work-related activity group, which started from April this year. It will see new claimants receive approximately £29 per week less than existing claimants, and we’ve got to remember it’s how the cuts on new claimants—. And the Department for Work and Pensions estimate that 500,000 families in Great Britain will be affected in the longer term. We estimate that around 35,000 affected claimants will be in Wales, and especially in the local authority areas in the south Wales Valleys, particularly those affected by higher ESA rates than for Wales as a whole. As a Welsh Government, we are taking action to help people to manage the effects of the UK Government’s welfare benefit changes, and we will continue to analyse the impacts of such cuts and monitor those impacts. Putting more money into our advice services, credit unions and the support services is crucial, but I think it would be very helpful for us to bring this to the wider discussion statement by the Cabinet Secretary; it would be very helpful to this Chamber and to the Assembly.
Three brief areas, if I may, leader of the house. Firstly, can I support Mark Isherwood’s earlier call for a statement on support given by the Welsh Government for rare diseases in Wales? I think you mentioned vasculitis, an area of concern close to my heart. Many of these sufferers of rarer diseases do often feel left out. It’s natural for large diseases—cancer, heart disease—to get a lion’s share of funding, but over time I think it is important that we do send a signal to sufferers of rare diseases that they are being thought about and policy is being formed around them, too. So, if I can ask for that. Secondly, I think it’s six months now since the health Cabinet Secretary made a statement—it was either written or oral—to this Chamber on giving the go-ahead for the specialist and critical care centre at Llanfrechfa Grange Hospital in Cwmbran. I think 2022 was the date given for completion for that project. Could we have an update on whether or not that is on course and what the latest is on that, because there are concerns by health officials within health establishments? So, I would be grateful for that. Finally, I drove along the Heads of the Valleys road near Gilwern on the weekend, and it’s good to see that coming along. That’s a fantastic piece of road, and there are many economic potential benefits around there. I can see the Member for Blaenau Gwent nodding vigorously at that. However, just down the road from the A465, Heads of the Valleys, you’ve got the A40 that links Abergavenny to Raglan and to Monmouth in my constituency, which is an ageing concrete road surface causing a lot of hassle for commuters and also a lot of hassle for people living in adjacent areas. So, if we’re going to have this fantastic piece of road kit up at the Heads of the Valleys, it doesn’t make any sense to have a poorer piece of road infrastructure feeding into it. So, I wonder if we could have a statement from the Cabinet Secretary for transport on how he intends to build on the development of the Heads of the Valleys and make sure that the surrounding road network is also built up to standard.
Well, Nick Ramsay, the Cabinet Secretary for Health, Well-being and Sport is sitting here listening to your first two questions, one of which I did respond to in terms of rare diseases and also the priority we give to that, but also to the state of play in terms of the critical care centre. Yes, it’s wonderful that you have a stretch of the Heads of the Valleys road with more funding coming through innovative finance to complete it, as was raised by Vikki Howells earlier on today, but also seeing the sign, which you will have seen, saying ‘Funded by the European Union’, strikes me that that road would not be built without us being a member of the European Union, and with Welsh Government funding as well. So, that has made a huge impact in terms of the Welsh economy and access to your constituency. And then, of course, Nick Ramsay, you mentioned the roads that come off the A465. That is a matter of work and partnership together with your local authority.